For several years now, Eric and I have talked about mtn biking the Kokopelli Trail in anywhere from 1 to 3 days. We have arranged it, set dates, and packed.... yet never got to the trailhead for various reasons on atleast 4 other occasions.... but this time we finally got started. I did the 5hr drive out to the Loma Trailhead on Friday night and shortly after, Eric and his nephew Billy arrived who was kind enough to meet us along the trail to refuel and camp. I was feeling guilty for leaving Jean and Miles at home, but needed to put this bear to rest. Ultimately we only made it through the first 4 (of 7) sections and bailed after 80miles at Dewey Bridge. It was our planned halfway point, and I pulled the plug on finishing the last 60miles on Sunday mainly because it would've been impossible to get home after the ride. Besides, I don't think my ass could've handled the abusive 6K of elevation gain! So now we've got some unfinished business to come back and take care of.
Section 1, Loma to Rabbit Valley; 21miles; 3hrs: 7:30am on a chilly Saturday morning we were on our bikes and finally about to start this thing! This part was quite familiar as I've ridden these trails several times before. The first 13miles are the most technical and your ride could end real quick with a crash. Mary's Loop to Lion's Loop to Troy Built Loop contours along the rim with the Colorado River below. The willows and cottonwoods looked awesome with plenty of yellow and greens dotting the riverbank. Lots of bumps, jumps, exposure, and drops that you've gotta pay attention to! The broken branch of a tree decided to jump out and rip my shirt and leave a bloody reminder on my shoulder. Time quickly passed between Eric and I as we swapped baby stories and got caught up on months of laughs and making fun of each other. Along Troy Built we dropped down to Salt Creek and had to hop off our bikes several times on both sides to hike-a-bike over obstacles. After about 13miles we joined the Rabbit Valley access road and cruised some easy miles to the I70 exit where Billy was waiting for us so we could drop off some clothing and grab some more food/water.
Section 2, Rabbit Valley to Westwater; 18.5miles; 2.5hrs: After a 20min break we were back on the bikes and cruising through some campsites with plenty of folks getting ready to bike or ATV for the day. The riding was much easier along this section and the sun was warming up the day nicely. A few rough spots along the 4x4 road dropping down into the dry McDonald Creek. Some cool Moab-esque rock formations as we crossed the invisible Colorado/Utah border following the Entrada formations. Mostly double track trails that we cruised along knocking off the miles with the occasional surprise of loose rocky descents or stiff climbs. The only folks we saw were a couple ATV'ers and a large group of mtn bikers that seemed to enjoy hooting and hollering! The 400ft climb up Bitter Creek Mesa wasn't bad, and in typical fashion we were wishing it was longer and steeper. The next few miles down to Westwater road reminded me of the Porcupine Rim.... downright abusive! It was a sweet cruise, but bone-rattling and really bounced my eyes all around my head. Once on the road, we had an easy few miles on pavement to Westwater boat launch where Billy was waiting again for another refuel spot.
Section 3, Westwater to Fish Ford; 26miles; 1.5hrs: Alot of biking under our belts, alot more to go. This section cruised by pretty quickly, though I was starting to feel all the miles in the saddle. We pedaled a couple miles back up Westwater road and hung a sharp turn under the trestle bridge. All 2wd roads along the RxR and powerlines in the middle of nowhere surrounded by nothing. A great place to zone out or sing Elmo songs, like we did! The LaSal mtns still looked far far far away. Out of nowhere, an 18wheeler fuel truck came up behind us and disappeared down the road leaving a cloud of dust, strange, what the heck was he doing out here?! Another couple miles of road where we talked about how bad it would suck to be lost out here in August with no map or water!
Section 4, Fish Ford to Dewey Bridge; 13miles; 1.5hrs: No support between these sections and our last miles for the day... thankfully! This section is kinda a blur, but it was some rocky uphills and single track before getting real close to the Colorado River and cruising through willows that smack ya head to toe. The colors really made this a special place, and like Eric pointed out... how many people have seen this section of the river? It would either have to be by boat or bike. Close to the river were some muddy sections with giant dinosaur footprints.... well, not really, but looked like it to us at the time! A few more hike-a-bike sections and a break to toss rocks into the river from the trail high above. Another few miles of teeth-rattling downhills to McGraw Bottom and popping out on 128. Here we had the choice to cross the highway and continue through the tough Yellow Jacket Canyon adding on another 2hrs, or an easy 5miles on pavement to Dewey Bridge where food, beer, and camp were waiting. Not a hard decision as we hid in the shade of a telephone pole, and before long we were in camp. Funny that we had no mechanical problems all day until 25ft away from camp when Eric got 2 flat tires!
Whew, an ass-whoopin' ~80mile day and 8.5hrs in the saddle (9.5 w/ breaks). Definitely tougher then I imagined and not all relatively easy 2wd dirt road cruising like most of the White Rim. Beers and spaghetti tasted damn good! I was sore head to toe from all the jarring around, and while Eric changed his tubes and Billy played guitar, I loaded up my pack and bike for the second half on Sunday. After crawling in the sleeping bag and falling asleep fast and hard, at some point during the night I woke up and couldn't stop thinking about how bad it would suck to not get back to Colo Spgs until ~1am after a 60mile, 10hr, 6000ft day on the bike. Seemed impossible. So in the morning I proposed the idea to Eric that we come back in the Spring to finish off the Kokopelli, but for Sunday just go back and ride the section of Yellow Jacket Canyon that we skipped. After weighing both sides over and over, and a long period of indecision, we decided it would be best to go that route. I felt like a wuss, but also didn't want to fall asleep and die on the drive home!
Yellow Jacket Canyon; 15miles; 2hrs: After a leisurely Sunday morning and watching the start of the "Moab Other Half Marathon" that started at Dewey Bridge, we gingerly put our sore asses back on the bikes for the 5miles of pavement back up 128 to the start of Yellow Jacket Canyon. The first couple miles of climbing the rocky double track went real slow as we worked out the kinks and tried not to sit as much as possible. Rocky up's and down's led to some fun slickrock and deeper in the giant sandstone walls growing around us. Just as I stated that the sand wasn't too bad, like mentioned in the guidebook, viola.... tons of sand! Rock drops and pockets of sand kept our full attention, as did the awesome views all around of colorful walls and arches, and Fisher Valley with the LaSals behind. Double track sand helped to steer our bikes all over the place, and we took break in a giant rock amphitheater with several precariously placed boulders all around. Too Cool! A few more miles of bumpy downhill brought us back to Dewey Bridge where we packed up and headed out of town.
All in all, another fantastic self-induced ass-whoopin' with Eric and Billy to put in the books. But we've gotta come back in the Spring now to finish off the Kokopelli Trail as it climbing thousands of feet into the LaSals and spits us out into Moab.
By the numbers: 66miles; 8000’ gain; 7600’ loss; 8hr 45mins riding; 10hrs 20mins total; 6600 calories burned
Since the Fall, I’ve kicked myself for bailing on the second half of the Kokopelli Trail. Luckily, Eric and I were able to plan a weekend to finish it off and bring the families along to spend some time exploring Moab and Arches National Park. After a long butt-kicking day on the bikes I’m GLAD we bailed on the second half in the Fall! It was tough even getting to the trailhead since it was quite a snowy drive between Breckenridge and Vail Friday night, raining and cold in the morning, then due to a “mechanical issue” at the start we almost didn’t get to start! Just as we were packed up and ready to go, I sat down hard on my seat to check my rear shock…. And my seat broke off! The bolt snapped right in half. By some strange occurrence we had Eric’s 4yr old son’s bike in the Yukon, so we were able to borrow a bolt from that. I added a socket wrench, adjustable wrench, zip ties, and duct tape to my already heavy pack, just in case. My bike computer decided not to work, but Eric had a brand new one, then we had to turn around to get my bike tool off the bumper! A rough start, but we were on our way just after 10am……
Section 5, Dewey Bridge to Fisher Valley; 18 miles, 3000’ gain, 1200’ loss; 3hrs 15mins: We had an idea what we were in for, and the climbing right from the start did not disappoint as we started the long climb towards Fisher Valley and two Cottonwood Canyons. It got progressively steeper and rockier as the fractions of miles went on, occasionally pushing up a hill to save a bit of energy while the Entrada Bluffs were easy on the eyes. The temps were about perfect, though carrying 140oz of water and a bunch of other crap was tugging on my shoulders already. Pinon and flowers lined both sides of the 4x4 road as we joined the Top of the World Trail. Some cool campsites on either side of the road along the way. At the top of the first climb we could see the theme of the day…. Gain a ton of elevation just to lose a ton of elevation. A rocky descent followed by another climb brought us to the top of Seven Mile Mesa. A few rollers then the famous “Rose Hill Garden”. In order to keep our teeth in our mouths, we hike-a-biked most of this downhill section as we could see the trail on the other side of the valley climbing (once again) towards Onion Creek Rd. The last couple of miles of this section were just plain fun and fast. At the road intersection we came across a Team Evergreen supported group doing the entire trail in 4 days. I asked about snow and the one support guy just pointed up waaaaayyyyy into the distance at the incredibly snowy saddle that we would be heading towards and mentioned that this is the most snow the La Sals have had since the 1970’s. Oh shit. He didn’t seem hopeful that we would make it to Moab before dark.
Section 6, Fisher Valley to Rock Castle CG; 24 miles, 3220’ gain, 2250’ loss; 4hrs: Man, that snowy pass looks far away, so off we go! A couple good things going for us though… the book describes this as “many riders rank this as a high point of their trip”, supposedly some middle chain ring climbing, and the potential of delirious conversations and lots of “your mom” jokes. On Onion Creek Rd for about a mile before turning off towards a saddle with some prime redneck viewing…. A guy flyin’ down the trail on an ATV with his very young kid riding on the gas tank without a helmet. While biking past their camp, an even younger kid was throwing knives at a piece of plywood with a target spray painted on it. The climb to the saddle wasn’t bad, but another downhill to dispose of all the elevation gained. Here we found it beneficial (and just plain comical) for Eric to read off every 10ft gained…. sucks when ya do the math for 3K to go! Lots of gear changing for the non-consistent slope and a couple breaks for gu’s and grub. At one break Eric was off the trail and started yelling “I NEED A WIPE” just as a couple folks from the supported group pedaled by. They didn’t quite know what to make of his comments, but we found it hysterical! Great views of Fisher Valley and Fisher Tower off in the distance. I was starting to fade fast and found myself in granny gear more times then not. The higher we got the cooler the temps and the trees/bushes changed as expected. Along with that comes the first sighting of snow along the trail and a touch of mud to ride through. Cool Colorado-esque camping spots everywhere. Lots of rollers then false summit #1…. false summit #2. From North Beaver Mesa it was unfortunate that we could see the long, snowy/muddy trail heading up the other side of the valley. Then the fun begins…. As we descended towards a ranch the tire ruts got deeper and the mud turned to the concrete-type that stops ya dead in your tracks. There was no easy way except straight through and we had to do a combo of pushing our bikes, then when the tires wouldn’t turn we had to carry them despite the extra 50lbs of mud and our feet getting sucked into the muck with every step. This was the longest quarter mile of my life! Finally we got to a spot where we could ride a bit and the mud was flying everywhere. On some gravel roads we attempted to scrap more mud off with sticks and rode past the Team Evergreen support vehicle that was waiting with a hose to wash off their bikes…. Talk about cushy! A couple miles of climbing on gravel and we were at the highpoint, 8620’. It was a relief and the views were awesome…. Then it started snowing. We put on all of our extra clothes for the 5 miles of screamin’ downhill to Rock Castle Campground. The snow didn’t last long but the wind stayed around and we finished the section just shy of 4hrs.
Section 7, Castle Valley to Moab; 24 miles, 1800’ gain, 4200’ loss; 3hrs 15mins: We thought we had an easy 4K downhill cruise to Moab, pizza, and beer. A peek at the map and description showed us just how wrong we were…. after another stout climb, we would then have the 4K downhill. As Homer Simpson says best, “D’oh!” This really took the wind out of our sails…. not much we could do but pedal, and fortunately the climb was on pavement, though mostly steep. Climb climb climb climb. We must’ve looked pathetic because a guy in a van stopped and asked if we needed water. We each chugged a much-needed pint, and took a pint for the road. Eric was still going at a pretty good pace and my pace was almost backwards. At another false-freakin-summit, there were only some tight switchbacks remaining and then (finally) all the downhill we dreamt about. On a side note, the area sure was cool! A large section of burned out scrub oak in Miners Basin, several stands of aspen trees, and lots of snowy chutes to higher places. A fist-bump was in order as well as a call to our wives letting them know that it’d certainly be dark before we got to the hotel…. They weren’t overly surprised given our history of adventures together. The postcard views included Castleton Towers, Fisher Towers, Castle Valley, Moab, and the Colorado Riverway. Jokes about Brokeback Desert were in order then miles and miles of Sand Flats Road. It was easy to skip Porcupine Rim and just continue blasting down Sand Flats Road despite numb fingers and toes. There must’ve been 2000 people camped along here! Eventually we hit the Slickrock TH and town was just another easy 3.5miles away. We got to the hotel parking lot at 8:20pm, just in time to not need our headlamps. Despite wanting to leave my dirty and beaten bike out in the parking lot to be stolen, I loaded it on the back of the truck glad to finally have this ride behind us after years of talking about it. Sunday I gave the bolt back to Eric’s 4yr old son and we all spent the next few days playing around Moab and Arches.